Friday, May 9, 2014

Rudi Learns to Cook

I do not eat well.  Between long weekend workouts, late nights at work, and not having a car, I have never really gotten into the habit of meal planning and grocery shopping since moving back to D.C.  As I get closer to my 30s, you'd think I'd start developing these habits but in actuality, it has gotten worse. In the past month, I have eaten cereal for dinner more times than not.  And there was that one time that dinner was goldfish crackers and wine (don't tell mom!).   Suffice to say, I have what you might call a poor diet.

I was swimming with my teammates one weekend when they told me about Blue Apron, a meal planning and food delivery service that sends you three recipes each week, plus ingredients, to cook yourself.  One teammate had a free week she could gift me, so she sent it along.  This was about two months ago.  Cue the goldfish dinner and I realized I needed a better solution for eating healthier, so last week I finally signed up.

The website provides you six possible recipes for the week and based on your dietary preferences, you receive three.  Each recipe contains enough ingredients for two servings, so it was perfect to solve both my dinner conundrum plus what to bring for lunch everyday that wasn't frozen and containing enough sodium to swell my fingers up.  The first week, my three recipes included spaghetti and meatballs, spring root vegetable casserole, and black bean and chicken enchiladas.

This brings us to benefit number 2.  I am what you might call a "selective eater".  Sure, some people may just say I am downright picky, but I like to think of it as having a simple taste pallet.  I am eager to have new things forced upon me to try and I am doing my best not to just leave ingredients out of each meal (except for onions.  I will never like onions).

So Wednesday evening, my first shipment arrived.  I got home late from dinner out with friends, but eagerly went to the package area to collect my swag.  I put it up on my counter and it was a little like opening a present.
The boxes are meant to keep everything cold for at least 12 hours and were nicely organized for new chefs such as me, who may not easily know the difference between parsley and cilantro, just by sight.  I cleaned out my fridge of everything that was expired (so, nearly everything) and quickly filled all of my drawers and shelves with the various ingredients.  It was probably the fullest my fridge has ever been.

After careful deliberation, I decided to start with the spaghetti and meatballs.  It was basically a fancier version of a recipe I can already make on my own and didn't seem overly complicated.

My first step was to prep the ingredients.  Chopping, dicing, peeling; things that are generally not associated with my normal cooking.  Thankfully, my best friend Lauren and my dad are both wonderful chefs and I already new a few tricks of the trade. For the garlic cloves, I knew to press down on the flat edge of my knife to make them easier to cut.  For the parsley, I knew to keep the tip of my knife on the cutting board and just move the back of it up and down (carefully avoiding my finger tips!).

I don't normally eat celery (I don't like or dislike it) but I dutifully chopped it up.  While the recipe did call for onions, I used Lauren's trick of just cutting it in half and simmering it in the red sauce - enough to get the flavor without actually needing to eat it!  It also seriously cut down on my chopping time (sans tears!).

Over the course of cooking the pasta, sauce, and meatballs, I used almost all of the pots and pans that I own.  I also used the neat measuring/prep bowls and olive oil pourer-thingie that Lauren gave me for my housewarming, as well as the nice knives and cutting boards I got from my family at Christmas.  I thought how generally ill-equipped I would be for cooking without the people around me!  The stove got the most action it has seen since I moved in.  But a mere 45 minutes later, I had a respectable looking meal!

I think I could get faster at this as I learn to chop a bit more.  A few lessons learned, for sure.  Before simmering the sauce, I was supposed to lightly cook the chopped garlic.  Very quickly the garlic looked as though I may have burned it; the gas burners and I are still learning to get along. But overall the meal was delicious - a fresher version of something I would have made with garlic powder and other spices instead of fresh cloves and parsley.  What impressed me the most was the amount of food it made. While Blue Apron says each recipe has two meals, this one yielded three full servings as well as extra sauce that I can use next week.  Overall, I was really impressed by both the amount of pots and pans I used as well as the meal.  It wasn't overly cumbersome for a week night (although I didn't eat until 9 pm) and clean up was actually pretty quick and easy.  My back hurt a little from standing in the kitchen so long, which made me feel a little sad and old, but I will definitely continue to order from Blue Apron and hope to expand both my palette and culinary expertise!  Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

(Half) Ironwoman

The Camino is part I of 2014 adventures in turning 30. 

Part II is the Eagleman 70.3, better known as a half ironman.  The full ironman is a ridiculously challenging triathlon distance; I am dipping my toe into the shallow end of that pool, swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 miles, and rounding the day out with a brisk half marathon (13.1 miles), for an overall total distance you may have guessed, 70.3 miles.

I have toyed with the idea of a half IM for a few years now, but never really committed or made it a priority.  In early October, Morgan, one of my close friends from Denver, said she was eager to do an east coast Half IM and asked if I would be interested.   After exploring a few races together, we settled for one on the eastern shore of Maryland; the Eagleman 70.3.

Me and Mo!

So once I paid my race fee (and my credit card stopped weeping), I started thinking about training.  It is wonderfully easy to think about a race when it is still a safe 9 months away.  You think of all the wonderful runs you will have and how much you enjoy being on your bike all over the city.  And then you actually start training.

In my case, I got a coach.  Katie and I have been friends since we were little and then again when we were somewhat bigger and both living in northern Virginia.  She is the reason I started running and I am the reason she started swimming.  Soon, triathlons lit her on fire and she got a coach to help her train without getting injured.  When she said she got a coach, in all honesty I thought "a coach?  like in high school?  really?" but I was happy for her and watched her dramatically improve.  Eventually she turned a passion into a profession and a new way of life and began to coach as well.  So when it came time for me to actually start training, I went to her. 

This was all in late October.  I thought, oh I'll just begin in January and that will give me 5 months.  Katie had different plans for me.  Within a day, I was training with her, building up my heart and lung strength and getting my generally out of shape body parts to start moving again.  My first week, I couldn't hold a plank or run a mile.  But slowly, over the fall, I got stronger.  And just slightly less pudgy.

It's not easy.  And I'm still not nearly as dedicated as I should be.  And there are many days where I want to stay in the warmth of my covers (and some days, I do).  And when you see your Sunday workout includes 5,200 yards in the pool, you whimper softly to yourself while putting on your suit.  Many times, especially during this horribly cold January, I have questioned "Why am I doing this?"  Why.  I don't have to.  I can quit anytime I want.  There is no one forcing me to do this.  Somewhere deep down, my Scottish stubbornness is yelling "GET OUT OF BED and just DO IT"  And at the end of a long run or strong swim or strong lifting workout, I know why I am doing this.  It's scary.  And I'm only at the tip of the massive amounts of training to come and sometimes, I'm still a big failure at fitting everything in.  But the strength and pride that you feel after doing something you weren't able to do even a month ago, its irreplaceable.   I can plank, heck, I can SIDE plank with minimal falling.  My fear of the weight room has been replaced with swagger.  I can run all the way to Virginia from my house. 

And its worth it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Buen Camino

Every year, I try to do something new; something big; something that terrifies me just a little bit.  I like these goals or events to also be something I've always wanted to do, and just never done.  It's part pushing myself beyond my comfort zone and part just wanting to not live with regrets for not having taken the time to do the things I want to do.  My only regret from college (apart from any ill-advised decisions made over a few beers) was that I never studied abroad.  It just never occurred to me until it was too late, and after playing Major-switching Roulette, I just simply ran out of time.

My first year, it was the Philly Tri.  I raced it with my then-roommate Lauren, my parents came as spectators and it was a great day!  We raced home (no pun intended), celebrated her birthday out with friends that night, then woke up and helped our friend Beth move the next morning.  Still one of my favorite weekends.

Triathlon finishers!

The next year, it was moving to Denver (and starting this blog, actually).  In 2011, I ran my first half marathon.  In 2012, I moved back to DC and generally didn't pick one particular event, but in 2013, I bought a house and took a solo trip to Belize to kayak around the ocean for a bit.  It was wonderfully relaxing, beautiful, and filled with so much laughter.

 Finisher Medal/Kicking it in a Belizian Hammock during a kayaking break

But now it's 2014.  For 2014, I have some big plans. 2014 is the year I turn 30.  I'm generally not one to fear aging and I'm excited for a new decade, but it just feels like a great time to mark the occasion with some major goals! 

So come June, I will be hiking the Camino de Santiago, or The Way.  A hike across northern Spain, the story goes that this path was the way of St. James, or the route taken by St. James after Jesus was crucified.  The Way has several different routes, but they all converge at the Tomb of St. James.  Hikers are referred to as pilgrims and seashells makers note the path, much like the white blazes along the Appalachian Trail.

  Santiago de Compostella Cathedral

People have asked why I am doing this and, truth be told, I don't know.  I just want to.  There is no deeper meaning or reason, unlike the pilgrim characters featured in The Way.  I'm not hiking to lose weight, or quit smoking, or work through some deep-seated mental anguish.  I just feel compelled to go. And, much to my mother's chagrin, I feel compelled to go alone.  I just feel the need to go and to see where the path takes me and not having a formal plan makes me pretty happy.   

So, the tickets are booked and the gear list is growing, as is the excitement.  Buen Camino!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's been awhile...

When I moved back to DC in July 2012, I remembered how busy the DC office is.  I was suddenly slammed with a new project (that would last until the following May) and other than trying new restaurants and hanging out with my friends, I didn't have a whole lot of interest going on, or time to blog.  So I didn't. 

So its been over a year. 15 months, to be exact.  And a lot has happened.  I was in two of my best friends' weddings and a bazillion more got engaged.  A few had babies and my weekends are now full of bridal showers, baby showers, bachelorette parties, weddings and first birthday parties.  And me?  Well I bought a house. 

A small one, but a house nonetheless.  A condo, if we want to be technical.  I got the idea in March, had a realtor by April and was under contract in June.  As far as home buying goes in DC, it was pretty painless.  I closed in July and moved in late August and, despite the definite challenges, fall a little bit more in love with it each day.  At some point, I may even begin to fix the things that have been breaking.

I left my well-loved NW neighborhood of Logan Circle for the lesser-known SE Capitol Hill.  I'm not a 'Hill' person - I don't work for the legislative branch and, not only will I not be impressed who you work for, I probably won't have the faintest idea who they are.  Somehow, though, this neighborhood works for me. 

I am a mere three blocks from the Capitol Building, which means my weekly long runs take me up and down the National Mall - one of my favorite running spots.  Last week I ran clear across the Mall to Virginia, which while only 4 miles away, left me feeling quite accomplished. 

I'm also a ten minute walk from Nats Stadium, which in addition to hosting the Nationals, hosts great concerts (Mom and I saw Sir Paul last July!) as well as Truckeroo - a gathering of the District's food trucks on Fridays during the warmer months.  Adjacent to the stadium is the Navy Yard area of DC - putting up new buildings left and right and on the brink of being one of DC's hottest new neighborhoods.  Blue Jacket - DC's latest brewery addition - has already opened and Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, and a new movie theater are all slated for the coming months and years.  I am very excited.

A few blocks to the east, along 7th and 8th streets are Eastern Market and Barracks Row.  The famed market burned down in 2007, but has been rebuilt and continues to be the premiere farmers market of DC.  Barracks Row, which includes a historic Marine Corps Barracks, contains a litany of shops and restaurants including my personal favorite, Ted's Bulletin.

But my neighborhood is not without downfalls.  The Navy Yard shooting and the high speed police chase at the Capitol Building were both within a half mile of my front door.  C
rime in SE is not great, but is usually contained to the southern side of the Anacostia.  And I am two blocks from the Capitol Powerplant - the power source for all things government, which is coal powered.  But while there is crime nearby, my street is also covered by three or more police departments at any given time and I have felt perfectly safe walking about. 

So, while the house has been the major accomplishment of the past year, I have a few exciting events planned for 2014 - the year I turn 30 - and I might just start blogging again!